Former vice presidential nominee John Edwards 57 was indicted by a federal grand jury in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Friday on charges that he violated campaign finance laws in an effort to conceal an extramarital affair while running for president in 2008.
Edwards is accused of conspiring with others to “falsify, conceal and cover up by trick, scheme and device a material fact”, causing the John Edwards for President Committee “to create and file false and misleading campaign finance reports”.
The court case comes after a two-year grand jury investigation, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, into the use of more than $40m raised by Edwards during the campaign. . The indictment claims that $725,000 contributed by Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, the 100-year-old widow of a banking heir, and $200,000 from the late Fred Baron, a wealthy trial lawyer and Edwards’s campaign finance chairman in 2008, was used by Edwards to conceal his mistress Rielle Hunter and her pregnancy from the public and the media.
The money was used to pay Ms. Hunter’s hotel bills, chartered aircraft, a car, furniture, a house rented in Santa Barbara, California, medical and other living costs.
Prosecutors say that the payments were campaign contributions because they were meant to prevent Edwards’s 2008 presidential bid from collapsing if the affair was discovered. They say the contributions also exceeded legal limits.
The indictment triggered immediate criticism from a range of campaign finance and legal experts, who said the government’s case is unprecedented and appears weak. They questioned whether it would survive the fierce defence being mounted by Edwards’s lawyers, who say his actions did not constitute a crime.
Edwards, who was released on his own recognizance, acknowledged that he has “done wrong, and I take full responsibility for having done wrong. And I will regret for the rest of my life the pain and the harm that I have caused to others.’’
He insisted that he did nothing illegal and said: “I never, ever thought I was breaking the law.”